NEIL Lennon’s uneasy relationship with the Scottish Football Association has intensified after the Celtic manager was charged with breaching his touchline ban.
Lennon will be absent from the dugout for tomorrow’s SPL match at Ross County as he completes a three-match ban that was triggered last month by an SFA charge for using offensive language towards St Mirren captain Jim Goodwin.
But he has now been accused of breaking the terms of that suspension by being in the “playing zone” within 15 minutes of the final whistle of Celtic’s 3-1 defeat by Motherwell last Sunday.
Lennon felt that game turned in Motherwell’s favour when referee Euan Norris awarded them a penalty after Charlie Mulgrew clipped Henrik Ojamaa, and he revealed in the aftermath that he had been summoned to the Fir Park match officials’ room by Norris. Lennon told Sky Sports: “He called me into his room. It was about a number of things but we’ll leave that confidential for now.”
The first match of Lennon’s three-game ban was against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, when Celtic officially clinched the SPL title. The second match was the one last weekend at Motherwell, where the SFA say he breached two rules: “Rule 205 [Breach of suspension: being within the ‘playing zone’ at the above match, whilst subject to a suspension, within 15 minutes of the referee having signalled the end of the match]” and “breaching a suspension by a player or team staff or by a club allowing a player or team staff to represent the club whilst suspended.”
Lennon has been informed that he faces an SFA hearing on 23 May – three days before Celtic meet Hibernian in the William Hill Scottish Cup final, raising the prospect of him being confined to the Hampden stands.
Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby deputised for Lennon at the club’s weekly media conference yesterday – which was held before news of the manager’s latest charge emerged – and he believes that Lennon is committed to remaining at Celtic next season as he sets his sights on another tilt at becoming only the third manager in the club’s history to win the domestic treble.
Lennon cast an element of doubt on his position in a television interview with BBC’s Football Focus programme last weekend when he said he did not know where his future lay and would wait until after the Scottish Cup final before deciding what to do next season.
But Mjallby is confident they will remain in charge of the SPL champions beyond the summer.
While the big Swede expects Lennon to be linked with managerial vacancies in England, he says his close friend has unfinished business in Scotland as he bids to emulate Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill as a treble-winning Celtic boss.
“I would be very surprised if Neil is not here next season,” said Mjallby. “I would not be surprised if there is interest in him, but I would be surprised if he was not here next season.
“I wouldn’t tell you what I’ve talked to him about, that’s between us. I obviously don’t know what goes on in his head all the time. We mostly speak about our team, who we work for right now and what we are going to do for the next game or in training.
“You need to remember that Celtic is a massive, massive club. If Celtic went to England, we would be among the top four because of our supporters and
“Here, we have a chance to qualify for the Champions League every season, more or less, if we win the SPL. Playing in Europe is great for anyone in management. What Neil wants to do in the future is a question for him, what he is looking for in his career, but I’m quite sure he’s very happy here. He works for a club he loves and where he has spent so many years.
“You can always do more than we have already done here. We haven’t won the treble and we could go even further in Europe. The treble is a big temptation, but it’s a very hard thing to do.
“Even without Rangers being here now, it’s not like you can just walk
out and win every game and all the trophies. We had a chance this year until we lost to St Mirren in the League Cup semi-final.
“Before every season, you dream of winning the treble but it’s not easy. Right now, our focus is on winning the double this season. We are in the Scottish Cup final against Hibs and what has gone before this season is in the past now.
“What we did in the Champions League this season was a great achievement, but we’ve got to look forward. There is a lot of work being done
behind the scenes, talking about players who are leaving and players we are looking to bring in. We believe in ourselves and hopefully we can go on and do even better here next season.”
Lennon will return from a brief break to oversee training at Lennoxtown today ahead of tomorrow’s fixture in Dingwall. The Celtic manager’s decision to give several of his key players holidays in the period between clinching the SPL title and the Scottish Cup final will see Fraser Forster, Charlie Mulgrew, Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper all excused the trip north. Emilio Izaguirre is also due to be rested, but the eager Honduran full-back declined to take the time off allocated to him.
“Emilio is always like that,” said Mjallby. “But sometimes he needs to understand it would be good for him to have a break, not just physically but mentally as well. He wants to play on Sunday but I’d be surprised if he did. The manager will speak to him when he comes back.
“It’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation with giving players time off. We have a vital cup final coming up but we have an early start to pre-season and most of the players will be on international duty this summer too.
“We are not really concerned about it affecting our form. Everyone will be back together from the start of next week and a lot of work will be done to make sure the players really focus on the cup final. But we are not dismissing the remaining league games. The winning mentality should always be there for our players. The demands here are very high all the time and they need to
Nigerian defender Efe Ambrose is among those who will return to action after missing last Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Motherwell. The 24-year-old enjoyed his holiday as he gears up for a hectic summer in which he could play as many as eight international matches, depending on how far African champions Nigeria progress in the Confederations Cup in Brazil.
“I will maybe only have a couple of weeks off before Celtic’s first Champions League game,” said Ambrose. “But I am a professional and can handle that. I am not complaining. I love representing my country, but Celtic is my daily bread.”
Ross County, still pushing for third place and European football, expect Celtic will be eager to atone for last week’s defeat at Motherwell, and goalkeeper Michael Fraser is bracing himself for a backlash. “I dare say Lennon will have made a few points to his players after the Motherwell defeat and he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who likes to lose even though they’ve won the SPL,” said Fraser. “I think he
demands a lot from his players.”